Sunday, November 21, 2010

Finland, The Land Of Bears...

Hello, neglected blog and friends. It's been a long, tiresome journey. When I left for Finland, I had this idea that I'd be posting regularly as I went along, but as always, reality turned out to be a little different.

I should have known it would, of course. Ever since I can remember, I've had a somewhat troubled relationship with my homeland.

For as long as I remember I've regarded Finland as a place to leave, not live. And each time I've left, it has always been painful and odd to return, as though entering a dream, or a memory resurfacing a little different from before. Now, once again a visitor in my own land, I can't help but to feel even more disconnected from it.

I sometimes wonder if Americans can relate to this feeling at all, being seemingly so able to callously up-and-leave the places they grew up in and travel across the continent for a job, an education, or simply on a whim. Odd as it may seem, coming from an immigrant, I have always found this ability nothing short of amazing and the longer I live here the more I continue to marvel at it. At the same time, the great, continuous migration of Americans is one of the things that makes me feel at home here. We're all relative newcomers to wherever we are in this great nation. It is just the seeming lack of nostalgia, a mix of longing and malice toward the place one comes from.

For instance, I love Finland for reasons too many to list here (though some of them will be the subject of an upcoming post), not the least of them being family, friends and memories, but for as long as I lived there I was constantly looking for something else, a new way of living, a way out. This trip made it very clear to me that I absolutely no longer belong there, if I ever did.

It is the home away from home now. And I received a very warm welcome indeed.

Welcome Mrs Prince
Mom had made special arrangements to be at the airport with my friend Kristiina, who had made even more special arrangements. Who doesn't want to be welcomed by a native maiden in her national costume?

Kristiina happened to have her fall break from school right as I arrived and so she had time to entertain my jet-lagged ass with lots of walking and tea. We visited an exhibition (obviously aimed at folks slightly younger than us) about the Moomin and had coffee at one of our favorite joints, a wee cabin by the sea, with eccentric decor and a policy wherein they pay you for refills.
Warming By The Fire
Hanging houses
A show for kids
 and I
They pay you for extra cups
This picture is staged

If visiting Finland can be a mixed blessing, a visit to my hometown is ever more ambiguous. Fifteen years ago, when I last lived here, I remember feeling every day as though I had been dropped from the sky, completely separate from the prosaic small town existence I saw unfold around me.
My mom's
This is not the house I grew up in. It was far more prosaic itself; a three-storey brick mistake from the 80s. Still, these seemingly normal surroundings did nothing but emphasize how weird we ourselves were. My mother was a bohemian in an era when it was no longer the norm, nor yet a norm. It was simply odd and this oddness reflected on my formative years tremendously.
I like to read
I spent most of my time reading, dressing up in costumes and wondering the woods, harbors and wastelands. Suffice to say I did not have single friend from kindergarten 'till 6th grade. At least not one willing to be seen in public with me.
I get to sleep on the couch
And though once in teenage-hood, weirdness became valuable currency, thrifted clothes the height of fashion and wit a bargaining tool beyond being good at school (Thank you Tim Burton and Nirvana!), these years of being the "odd one out" definitely shaped my feelings about this town.
Family altar

New supersocks!
That's not to say I didn't have a happy childhood. Though I didn't. I had an absolutely magical one. My mother, wise woman, an artist, made sure of that. It was one filled with stories (She started reading The Lord Of The Rings to me when I was four years-old.), adventure (Prague, Paris, the island of Jalta, Stockholm by steamship, all over Finland by train and hitch hiking every summer and even my first trip abroad without her, to Tunisia, all before the age of 12!) and nothing dull or ordinary ever (Just check out her home. She's a set and costume designer by trade.).
Oh My Mama
My Grandma Was an artist.
My grandmother, an artist and a rebel in her own way, had a hand in too.
So is my mother in law

and my mom (she won an award for it)
Women in my family
I think that's why we moved to this "awful little town" as I used to think of it. So that my grandma and auntie could help.
The Golden Spruce
I see a mansard roof through the trees...
If I lived here...
My mother did not make the easiest of choices, but she made a good life for me the best she could, and I'd like to think that I've, at least subconsciously honored them with some of my own. I too, have chosen a lifestyle out of the mainstream, a simpler, more fulfilling (or so I'd like to think) way of life. Although at least I have indoor plumbing, a husband, and am not the sole carer for a small, obstreperous child. (The house above is in the same block and closely resembles the 120-year-old wood-heated, plumbing-free house my mother and I lived in my early years, and who's tearing down by the city authorities she took me to protest at the tender age of six.) I can't even fathom how she managed it all, the hauling of wood, the warming of water, the small child, the day job, the political activism, but like millions upon millions of women before her, she did and I'm very proud to be her daughter.

Ours is, after all, a city known for formidable women. And it's not really such a terrible town. At least in the rosy vision of nostalgia and hindsight, I wouldn't really change a thing. Who would?
We used to steamboat
Another Island
So there's a bit of personal history, that, and the fact that my beloved auntie (who's at least as big a reader as I am) has a 100-year-old summer villa on one of these islands, so close to the city by foot bridge that it takes ten minutes to get to the center of town. Amazing right? I love how old everything is back home. Just one of the many things I love about Finland. I promise a lighter tone and many move in the next post. And in that spirit: I give you A Gathering of Bears
A parliament of bears
Bear for you and me
And how they howl at the moon.
Bears worship the full moon
If you listen closely, you can almost hear them, right? Ssshhh...


  1. oh my, what a beautiful post. It invokes such a magical feeling. I'm feeling jealous of your bohemian lifestyle (and of the Moomin exhibition!). Lovely.

  2. You know, you fascinate me. It was a real treat to get a more in-depth peek into the story of Milla. I'm so glad you're now finding yourself settled in a place that truly feels like HOME.

    Just yesterday Clover and Lucas were eating canned oysters on crackers together. I find this practice repulsive but whatever, it's there thing and they like it.

    Anyway, Lucas asked her if she remembered the first time they ate them. Apparently, it was during that picnic we had with you and Charlie (I didn't remember this).

    Then Clover started asking if we could go back there to visit. Lucas told her that yes we could go back there sometime :)

    *missed you*

  3. thanks again for sharing.
    your posts feel like a fairy tale.

  4. That's so amazing. Other than moving a few hours from my hometown to go to college, which is where I live now, I always lived in the same small town, and have never even left the country, the province barely. Your life seems like a story from a book to me. :)

  5. wow...your trip looks amazing! Thanks for sharing a little insider info on the pics. What a good story teller you are!

  6. Your mother sounds like such a powerful, intriguing woman, how wonderful that you had such creative strong women around you. This post is so beautifully written, and your photos capture a Finland I am now yearning to see in person. I know what it is like to feel completely odd in a town of.....normals; but if you are the odd one I'd rather know you any day.

  7. so what was the name of the awful little town?

  8. When my daughter was quite young--maybe three years old--she very earnestly told me that prior to being born she was circling the Earth in a spaceship with aliens. That's what comes to mind when you mention your feeling of being dropped into your birthplace.

    It is so difficult to watch my kids not fit in at school based on values we instill in them, even if in the long run they will (hopefully) be better for it. It is good to hear an adult child's thoughtful insights on their unconventional upbringing.

    I am glad your travels were safe, and that you are back to the internets :)

  9. wow...what a lovely story and posting and place and woman. aint life grand, complicated and strange and full of wonder. i am glad that your mama had the strength to try to live the way that she thought was right, and even more so...that you are. this concept of home fascinates me too...i always wonder how one of my brothers can live two states away with his wife and KIDS! i want them closer. we all do. and we are holding down the fort here for when they decide that they need their whole tribe at hand. but it is good to know that one can build a completely new concept of home for oneself too. a better, bigger, more expansive concept, and make it one's own and love it and grow in it. can't wait to see more from your "home away from home" and to love it almost as much as i love your sweet island life.

  10. What a Magnificent post! I think it's my favorite so far. You put things into perspective so well and I am able to connect with you each and every single time!I thank your mother for bringing up such a lovely person, where would we bloggers be without your insight? I have to say I wouldn't want to think of it!
    I have always thought of Finland as a place of fairy tales and beautiful landscapes...truth is not too far from that. Ah, welcome back !!! Have missed you and definitely need you in America : )
    Much, much Love to you!

  11. Lovely post Milla! Giving my child a¨magical childhood is the most important thing to me.. I'm thinking about unschooling her since I hate school, the conformity, peer pressure, boredom et cetera. (She can go if she wants to, obviously!)I suffered quite a bit in my childhood, being bullied, being the smart kid, just being too sensitive for this world. It took me along time to overcome and have the sense to opt out.

  12. what a wonderful post! so interesting to learn more about you, and to see parts of finland too!

    i'm glad you've finally found somewhere you belong ♥

  13. what a great post! and you visited the cafe regatta, which i stumbled over on my last day in helsinki this summer! they have the best cinnamon-bun-like thing in the world... and i sat and one of those ice-things as well!

  14. Aaah ah, life is far too complicated sometimes. But then things are rarely ever simple, I suppose. Home is wherever you want it to be, not necessarily where you're born. You totally get it though.

    Your childhood sounds like it was much wilder than mine. The biggest adventures I ever had were treks into the woods with my cat. I look back and smile though. To be that care free again would be great.

    When it comes to feeling disconnected, I'm the queen. If I were a phone, my lines would never work. If I were a bridge, a lot of folks would fall to their deaths. If I were a circuit, there would never be light. Translation? I know what you mean.

    I'm so glad you're back. Your blog is a regular companion to my homework, if you catch my drift ;)

  15. I was super excited to see a post from Milla once again :) You're uber adorable as always in your native Finland. And as someone that loves personal stories steeped in history and bitchin' women--I quite loved yours! It was nice to know more about you... and see photos of Finland.

    I had a pretty traumatic experience as a child when my parents decided it'd be fun to pluck me from the only home I'd ever known, family and friends. We moved to what felt like a different country (it wasn't). My parents never quite fit in this new place and it made me stick out like a sore thumb--terribly. I was made fun of for my strange ways and the way I talked. Apparently, I was not the only one that felt as though I were in a different country. It was hard, but I think the experience made me appreciate and look at my childhood and formative years very differently. I really value the fact that I had the opportunity to do that. I think some people grow up, move on, move out... and don't really have the chance to reflect on what truly shaped them as adults.

    Anywho, glad to see you again!

  16. so happy you have been able to have this kind of full circle moment and also that you've found and created a new place that feels like the home you've always craved.

  17. what an amazing post milla!
    so very interesting to learn more about you and see the beautiful scenery of your hometown.

  18. Hi, there! I've been lurking for a while. I grew up in Southern California and spent a year between college and grad school living and working in a smallish town in Finland. Funny to hear you describe Finland as prosaic, because to me it was magical and poetic compared to big American city life. I loved my time there. Thanks for sharing your Finland experience, and thanks for such a cool blog!

  19. What a beautiful post! Personally I am at that weird, torn stage where nowhere feels like home... I already feel like a bit of a stranger here in Helsinki, but I don't quite feel at home yet in NY. It is an odd feeling. I love being back here though, seeing family and friends, and revisiting old places and memories. But I am not there yet where it is only a source of marvel. It is still confusing, a little sad even.

    Your mom sounds like such a fascinating person!

  20. I'm terribly saddened to read that you didn't have any friends from kindergarden to 6th grade! Very sad indeed!! I hope your life now is filled with love & laughter.